I started walking and he followed along behind me as I went out of
the produce department and down the cereal aisle and past all the
cashiers and out the door.
Once we were safe outside, I checked him over real careful and he
didn't look that good. He was big, but skinny; you could see his ribs.
And there were bald patches all over him, places where he didn't have
any fur at all. Mostly, he looked like a big piece of old brown carpet
that had been left out in the rain.
"You're a mess," I told him. "I bet you don't belong to anybody."
He smiled at me. He did that thing again, where he pulled back his
lips and showed me his teeth. He smiled so big that it made him
sneeze. It was like he was saying, "I know I'm a mess. Isn't it
It's hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good
sense of humor.
"Come on," I told him. "Let's see what the preacher has to say
And the two of us, me and Winn-Dixie, started walking home.
That summer I found Winn-Dixie was also the summer me and the preacher
moved to Naomi, Florida, so he could be the new preacher at the Open
Arms Baptist Church of Naomi. My daddy is a good preacher and a nice
man, but sometimes it's hard for me to think about him as my daddy,
because he spends so much time preaching or thinking about preaching
or getting ready to preach. And so, in my mind, I think of him as "the
preacher." Before I was born, he was a missionary in India and that is
how I got my first name. But he calls me by my second name, Opal,
because that was his mother's name. And he loved her a lot.
Anyway, while me and Winn-Dixie walked home, I told him how I got
my name and I told him how I had just moved to Naomi. I also told him
about the preacher and how he was a good man, even if he was too
distracted with sermons and prayers and suffering people to go grocery
"But you know what?" I told Winn-Dixie, "you are a suffering dog,
so maybe he will take to you right away. Maybe he'll let me keep you."
Winn-Dixie looked up at me and wagged his tail. He was kind of
limping like something was wrong with one of his legs. And I have to
admit, he stunk. Bad. He was an ugly dog, but already, I loved him
with all my heart.
When we got to the Friendly Corners Trailer Park, I told Winn-Dixie
that he had to behave right and be quiet, because this was an all
adult trailer park and the only reason I got to live in it was because
the preacher was a preacher and I was a good, quiet kid. I was what
the Friendly Corners Trailer Park manager, Mr. Alfred, called " an
exception." And I told Winn-Dixie he had to act like an exception,
too; specifically, I told him not to pick any fights with Mr. Alfred's
cats or Mrs. Detweller's little yappie Yorkie dog, Samuel. Winn-Dixie
looked up at me while I was telling him everything, and I swear he
"Sit," I told him when we got to my trailer. He sat right down. He
had good manners. "Stay here," I told him. "I'll be right back."
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